The Day After the Michigan Avenue Proclamation
“This is not an exclusive interview, you understand,” I said, settling into the chair across from Terrance Martin.
“Exclusive?” Martin laughed bitterly as he shook his head and plunked his phone down between us hard enough to make me wonder if he’d need a new one. Then he slid his own chair a bit close to the table and adjusted his bulk so it sat more comfortably. “I’ve never heard of anyone blackmailing a reporter into interviewing him. Why should any other part of the interview be normal?”
“An excellent attitude to take, Mr. Martin.” I took my hat off and set it on the table beside me in an effort to be polite, although the scarf that hid my face would have to stay. Beside me Heavy Water took a chair of his own. We’d both dressed down a bit for this meeting, he went with a simple hoodie and jeans, with the hood up and a turtleneck with the neck unrolled and pulled up to hide most of his face. In addition to my scarf, I was wearing a beige overcoat and knee high waterproof boots that would conceal everything I was wearing underneath.
“I don’t know who you people are, but you look ridiculous,” he added, sitting back in his chair and glancing around the echoing lobby of the Circle Centre. There weren’t a lot of people there, by shopping mall standards, but there were still enough to create a lot of background noise. “But not as ridiculous as meeting here. I’m going to have a hard time hearing you on the recording.”
“I’m sure this interview will be memorable enough that you won’t need to consult your notes too closely.” I smiled, even though he couldn’t see it. “We’re making history, after all.”
“I’m a sports writer,” he said skeptically. “The only history I write happens on the playing field.”
“I’m well aware of your specialty,” I said with a smile. “But we did choose you for a reason and, trust me, once word of other events comes out your editor will want a part of this.”
Martin gave Heavy a skeptical look. “This guy okay?”
If he’d been expecting some kind of ethnic sympathy from Heavy he was in for a disappointment. Any shared experiences they had as African Americans were more than overwritten by hidden talent, criminal background and blood relation to a serial killer. Heavy just grunted and said, “You’d be surprised. We have something to show you.”
With that much preamble and no more, Heavy picked up Martin’s cup of coffee, popped the lid off and reached in. A second later he quickly dumped a shiny, viscous blob of steaming coffee out on the table where it trembled a bit like the world’s most bitter tasting blob of jelly. Martin jerked back with a yelp, perhaps to avoid getting scalded, then leaned back in for a closer look.
Heavy let the coffee sit there for a moment then reached out and flicked the blob with a single finger, returning the liquid to normal viscosity. It burst almost like a bubble sending coffee rushing out in all directions and causing the reporter to jerk back again, cursing this time. I grabbed some napkins and casually dropped them on the brown mess on the table, then said, “Pretty little trick, don’t you think?”
The reporter glared at Heavy. “What did you do?”
“I altered the viscosity of your coffee until it was closer to glue than caffeine,” Heavy said with a shrug. “Then I put it back to normal. Splash.”
“You…” Martin’s face scrunched up, probably reviewing high school physics that he hadn’t had to use in decades. “How is that possible?”
“Modern science tells us what’s happening, but not the mechanism by which it is accomplished. Another example.” I held my hand out palm up over the table. With a flex of my fingers I sent electricity arcing through my fingers like it was a miniature Jacob’s Ladder. It was a modification, or actually the original incarnation of, my taser rig. It wasn’t really much more than a parlor trick but in this case that was exactly what I wanted. “What you are seeing is called an unusual talent.”
He switched his attention from the sparks crawling down my hand back to me. “Seriously?”
“That’s the official term.” I snapped the current off and closed my hand. “We chose to talk to you, in part, because you’re used to seeing people with exceptional abilities.”
“Whoa. Hold up.” Martin leaned back and put his hands between us like he was trying to push me away. “There’s a huge difference between being a good athlete and having…” He gestured at my hand. “Some kind of superpowers.”
“Not a superpower,” I said quickly. “An unusual talent. We can do one thing you can’t. We’re not comic book characters. We’re real people, just like you.”
Our interviewer gave us a skeptical look. “Who hide your faces and blackmail people like you’re cut-rate villains.”
“Look, we can go back and for over this all day our you can listen to his point,” Heavy said, leaning forward just enough to make it clear he wasn’t making a request. “This isn’t about us having a couple of sweet tricks up our sleeves, it’s about equality.”
“Really?” He still looked and sounded skeptical. “How so? Your friend looks pretty well off to me.”
“Money isn’t the central issue.” I drummed my fingers on the tabletop for a second. Heavy had jumped ahead in our script but, given the direction things had been going, that was actually a good choice. Best to stick with him and catch the rest later. “Have you ever heard of people like us before? I mean outside of Greek myth or movies something like that.”
“No…” Martin said slowly. “But there are good reasons for you people to stay hidden, right?”
“Well, wouldn’t you be worried about getting outed?”
“Worried about what?” I asked, keeping my tone casual. “Persecution by others? Do you realize how difficult it is for us to stay hidden?”
The reporter’s brow furrowed. “I don’t follow.”
“Think about it.” I rested an elbow on the table, careful to avoid the mess Heavy had made, and leaned in, lowering my voice and prompting Martin to match my posture to hear better. “Life isn’t like fiction. We don’t magically develop our talents in adolescence. It’s much less like athletic ability and much more like perfect pitch in that respect. Ninety nine percent of the time there’s no way to keep family members or close friends from knowing. Then there’s the shrewd folks who notice their friends always have something weird happening around them. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the cops who have one to many strange things happen to them, the conspiracy theorists who are in the right place at the right time-”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Martin waved his had to cut me off. “Exactly how many people know about you talented folks?”
“The official government estimates, made during the 2000 Census, are that about 1 in 25 people are either talented themselves, or know someone who is. Don’t ask how they reached that conclusion, the math is kind of complicated.”
“Right. I don’t care anyways.” He shook his head. “What I want to know is, how do you guys even stay secret?”
“Ah. Well.” I leaned back in my chair and stared at the ceiling. That wasn’t in the script, but it was a good question. “It’s actually a combination of two things. Most fiction would have you believe that people pass off anything they see and don’t understand as hallucinations or something similar, they simply won’t believe anything that doesn’t fit with their way of looking at the world.”
“I notice that you don’t seem worried about that,” Martin said.
“Because it’s just not true. People want there to be fantastic abilities, that’s why there’s a million stories about people who have them – well, that and the fact we’re real and there’s at least a cultural memory of our existence.” I glanced down at the reporter and gave him the hardest look I could manage. It’s actually quite good even when you can only see half my face, I know because I practice with a mirror from time to time. “People keep the secret out of fear.”
“Fear of what?” Martin asked incredulously. “You have crazy superpowers, what’s there to be afraid of?”
“Don’t get it wrong,” Heavy said. “We can mess with a couple of laws of nature, sure, but that doesn’t mean we’re invincible. I’ve been laid up for months after getting shot. Maybe there’s one or two guys who can bounce bullets out there but, as far as I know, that’s all they can do. There’s plenty to be afraid of.”
I drummed my fingers to grab and keep Martin’s attention. “What you don’t seem to understand is, most of us don’t know just how common talented people are. So even if one of us should see some sign that another person might have a talent of their own we keep quiet. And if your son could juggle electricity and you met another man who you saw doing the same, would you approach him? What would you say when he asked you how you realized what he could do? What if he saw your son as some kind of rival?”
“I get the picture.” He gave us a meaningful look. “Not everyone with your talents is a nice person.”
“Funny, coming from you. But it’s much worse than that.” I leaned forward again and said in a softer tone, “The government doesn’t want people to know about us. That’s the other thing that keeps us secret. We can’t use our talents for our own profit, in fact we’re not supposed to use them at all unless we’re employed by the government. We’re hounded when we do, and we can even go to jail. They’re careful to keep it all neat and kosher looking, but the real purpose is to make sure we never become known to the general public.”
Martin frowned. “I’m guessing they don’t want to cause a panic or riots or hate crimes or something like that?”
“That’s the idea,” Heavy said. “But tell me, has that ever worked? In this country or anywhere else?”
I picked up the line of thought smoothly, glad to be back to something resembling our script. “A fundamental part of our identity is being repressed right now. Significant contributions we could be making with our unique abilities are being prevented, or kept strictly in the hands of the government, supposedly for our own safety. But who does it really benefit? Project Sumter, the government’s organization for controlling talents, has the monopoly on talents who are well educated on what they can do and how they can do it safely. They use it to conduct surveillance and enforce laws in ways no one else can match.”
“One out of ten of known talents dies in accidents resulting because they don’t understand what they can do,” Heavy added. “By keeping that information to themselves The Man makes himself partly responsible for those deaths.”
Martin’s eyes widened slightly, then his skeptical expression was back in force. “Okay, that does sound bad. But any numbers you produce to support that are going to be a case of your word versus the government’s. And what do you think running a story in a newspaper is going to do about it? The Indianapolis Star isn’t even a big paper.”
“It wouldn’t be that big a help, if that’s all we did,” I said with a shrug. “You’ve seen the kind of long term differences movements that were all protest and no plan have made. Fortunately, we have something of a little more substance. We’ve already proclaimed our intention not to suffer second class citizenship in silence any longer. Now we’re beginning to act. What we need is to reach out to likeminded people, get in touch with them. A little activist journalism could go a long way in that regard.”
Marin nodded. “I could see that. Okay, what do you want to say to our readers about your intentions?”
“For now, just that we want equality, no different than anyone else in America. We’re willing to do what we need to in order to get it. You can call me Open Circuit, that was given to me by the government but it’s a name I’m not afraid to use as I stand up to them. I’m the nominal leader of our movement right now. There will be further demonstrations of what we can do with our unique talents and how we can use them to address our national problems in the coming weeks. In the mean time, we need other talents to come out of hiding and normal people to start demanding answers from the government.”
“What about this Project Sumter that you say manages your people?”
“Very hush hush,” I said, spreading my hands. “I don’t know all that much about it, other than that it is a government agency and it answers to a Senate committee chaired by Senator Brahms Dawson of Wisconsin.”
A grin broke out on Martin’s face. “Oh, really?”
“Someone to talk to when you start fact checking,” I said, letting a smile creep into my voice.
“That it is.” He reached out to pick up his phone then hesitated. “Anything else you’d like to add?”
“Not right now.” I raised an eyebrow. “Do you think your editor will want to run the story?”
“He might be persuaded,” Martin said, picking up his phone and tapping at the screen for a moment. He hesitated as he started to put it a way and gave me a nervous look. “Does it make a difference about that other thing?”
I placed a USB stick on the table between us. “This is the only existing copy of the security camera footage. It’s all yours. No repercussions even if your editor doesn’t run the story. But I don’t think that will be his decision.”
“You’re probably right,” Martin said, scooping up the stick and tucking it away. “If you want another interview just call me. I’m pretty sure we can work something out easier next time.”
“A pleasure,” I said. But Martin was already hurrying off, dialing frantically on his phone.
“Was that really the only copy of the camera film?” Heavy asked, tossing his hoodie onto the bathroom sink and rolling down his shirt collar.
“It was,” I said, winding my scarf up carefully and setting it next to my coat and hat. In half an hour some enterprising soul would be pawning them or perhaps just adding them to their personal wardrobe. They no longer served any purpose for the two of us. “It was a hit and run, Heavy. Martin was well past the statute of limitations on those and, even if he wasn’t, it was a drug dealer he killed.”
“A sixteen year old drug dealer,” Heavy pointed out.
“Granted. But the chances of his being prosecuted would be small, particularly based on footage from a low quality, unmanned security camera on a warehouse that just happens to be owned by a wanted fugitive.” I unhooked the Jacob’s Ladder glove I was wearing and tucked it into the pocket of a light windbreaker I’d stuffed into the pocket of my long coat, then rolled down the sleeve of my shirt.
Heavy wasn’t planning on wearing a jacket. Between his beat-up turtleneck and my ratty flannel shirt and windbreaker we now looked like a couple of worn out blue collar workers getting off of third shift and heading home for the day. Except instead of looking tired, Heavy looked mad. “It’s not right. Kids like him get out there, slinging drugs on corners because they got nothing else.”
“I know it, Heavy.” I shrugged into the windbreaker and left the front open. “Society owed that boy something better and what it gave him was the front bumper of Terrance Martin’s car. And he didn’t even have the guts to stay there until someone could come and take the kid’s body away. Trust me, just because the world’s forgotten that kid doesn’t mean I have. We can’t afford to discredit him right now, but once Martin’s usefulness is over we’ll be in a position to do something about that.”
“You’re gonna use him and loose him, huh?”
I sighed. “That’s the world we live in, Heavy.”
“At least you’re trying for the right thing.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and slumped his shoulders, starting to look more like the exhausted, overworked manual laborers we were supposed to be. “I guess you can’t let it get to you.”